Anthony Weiner’s front-page scandal has yet again raised the question, “What’s the matter with men today?”
Certainly in the majority of the political sex scandals we have witnessed in the last few years – Bill Clinton’s, John Edwards’s, Eliot Spitzer’s, David Vitter’s, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, to name a few of the more vulgar examples – the blame falls largely on the man. It’s hard to ignore the fact that many of these members of the political elite have used their positions of power to take advantage of young, or largely defenseless, women.
Some observers have offered a “boys will be boys” explanation, suggesting that cheating is just something men have always done. It’s true that many of these men seem to think sexual improprieties are part of their job description – and as political leaders they have no shortage of opportunities to act on their desires.
Still, we’ve been much too quick to ignore the role that women – and modern feminism – have played in setting the stage for many of these infidelities. This is not a gratuitous attack on the women who have been publicly humiliated by these scandals and bear the emotional brunt of their husbands’ unfaithfulness; rather, it is to point out that for every disloyal and lewd male lawmaker, there’s a woman (or two, or three, or more) who is all too willing to enable his behavior.
More important, more and more men – and women – have forgotten what a healthy relationship (let alone marriage) looks like. For decades, modern feminists have undermined the idea of marriage, discouraged romance and courtship, encouraged a laissez-faire sexual culture, and done everything in their power to eliminate gender roles. Add to this the academic and professional opportunities available to women today, and the access to affordable birth control, and it’s clear that it’s much easier for women to participate in our “no strings attached” sexual culture than ever before. But this freedom, which has benefitted women so much, doesn’t come without consequences – namely, that it has allowed so many women to think it’s permissible to have an affair with a married man.
It was simply a coincidence that in the midst of the Anthony Weiner scandal, my husband and I watched the recent romantic comedy Just Go with It, in which Adam Sandler plays a plastic surgeon who pretends to be married in order to pick up women. Sounds counterintuitive, perhaps, but hilarity ensues as Sandler dons a fake wedding ring, tells sob stories about his terrible wife, and quickly receives sympathy and affection from a host of young women eager to cheer him up.
Ultimately, Sandler’s character meets an ever-so-slightly more traditional woman whom he thinks he loves, and who wants him to demonstrate that he’s not, in fact, married. Still, she is the anomaly, following scores of women who show no compunctions about sleeping with a man who claims his marriage is slipping away, but shows no signs of starting divorce proceedings and continues to wear his wedding band.
One shouldn’t make too much out of a Sandler comedy, but it draws attention to some serious flaws in the way society views marriage – and women – today. In our effort to bring about gender equality, we’ve lost sight of important differences between the sexes. And when it comes to relationships, the attitude that a girl should act like “one of the guys” has serious ramifications that often end up hurting other women most of all.
I don’t pretend to know anything about Weiner’s marriage, nor do I wish to set myself up as a judge of morality. Still, every time a new sex scandal emerges, it’s clear that Americans are not simply caught up in the sordid details, but are at some level troubled by what are usually pretty awful situations. It’s hard to imagine that most women don’t have at least a fleeting thought of what it would be like to be in the wife’s shoes. (In fact, Hollywood has created an entire network television show based on this very premise, The Good Wife.)
Left out of the conversation, however, is a discussion about why so many women are willing to participate in these infidelities. If, as a society, we’re interested in seeing fewer sexual scandals, we need to ask more than what’s wrong with men today. Only when we consider how decades of skewed gender politics and a quest for a false sense of “equality” have contributed to this culture will we be able to have an honest conversation.
– Sabrina L. Schaeffer is a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum and managing partner of Evolving Strategies.